Friday, April 29, 2011

What If the Concept of College was Re-defined?

People call college "the best four years" of their lives. Thousands upon thousands of dollars are spent for board, tuition, classes, books, etc. After college ends, where do we go? How do we pay off these debts? Graduation is like a jump board out of the cozy environment that we've been living in to a world labeled "dog-eat-dog." Suddenly, graduates have to realize that life does not revolve around school. For 16 years, undergraduate students attend different academic systems to gain the education level that they want or feel that is expected. And then, school ends.

What comes after school? Real life? Family? A job?

College definitely has its perks; however, does a degree truly make one more prepared for life than real life experience? What if life experience and schooling could be combined?

Timothy Cook at The Saxifrage School has a vision to redesign college education. Not only does he have the vision, but he is putting action behind his ideas.

This is the Saxifrage School, a college redesign project with dual-majors, language fluency, and real-life skills. It's a real place that will have 400 students, 40 professors, and a $5000 tuition. The Saxifrage School is set to open in 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

p.s. Don't forget about my giveaway!!! It ends May 9th!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ask An Author: Giveaway

As a grand finale of this series of Ask An Author with Rhonda Brutt, I will be hosting a giveaway. It seems appropriate that the giveaway item will be the online version of Voyance. If you're looking for a light-hearted summer read with a twist, this is probably the book for you especially if you get a kick out of teen fiction.


About Voyance:
Emma Patterson was born with clairvoyant and telepathic abilities. But, for as talented as Emma is, she feels very alone in the world. No one she knows shares her gifts, or understands what it’s like to be different; but, that all changes when her mother sends her away for her senior year of high school. Hidden along the Florida coast is Voyance, an institute for students with extrasensory talents. Here, Emma must learn how to navigate in a new environment, make friends, and rise to the challenges that being psychic present for her and her fellow classmates. She soon finds herself falling hard for the school administrator’s only son, Alex. As their relationship grows, Emma and Alex discover that not everything is always the way it appears. There is more going on at the school than meets the eye. And sometimes, even being psychic doesn’t give you the answers you need. Together, they uncover the school’s secrets that some would do anything to keep hidden. They must find a way to uncover the truth about Voyance, without risking the bond they share . . . their future depends on it.

If you were psychic, what choices would you make?
Outcomes can change.
Love does not.
Welcome to Voyance.

Okay, here are the rules!

Mandatory Entry: (1 entry) Like Rhonda Brutt on Facebook. Leave a comment saying that you did so.
Bonus: (1 entry) Share the link here of Voyance with your facebook friends. Tell me that you did it.
Bonus: (1 entry) Tell me a super power that you would choose and why.
Bonus: (1 entry) Twitter about Voyance and leave a link to it in comments.
Bonus: (2 entries) Blog about this Voyance giveaway and leave a link to it in comments.

The giveaway opens now and will end on May 9th at noon. Hopefully, the winner will be posted the following day.

p.s. the winner will need to email me (email can be found in my blogger profile) to claim their prize.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I can only think of Food.

My new craving: carrots and humus. I cannot stop talking about carrots and humus (my poor roommates).


My mom makes the best spaghetti sauce. No one makes it like she does. I just want to go home and eat her spaghetti, tomato sauce, italian bread, and meatballs.


This afternoon for lunch, I went to a frozen yogurt place called Let's Spoon. I loved it. I think I went into a food coma.

All I want from life is food. I could go for some rice and beans, pineapple, raisin bran, pancakes and waffles, taco bell (YES, taco bell. i know), and a mini DQ blizzard. Hopefully, this blog post has calmed my food craving.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ask An Author: Rhonda Brutt


Our series with Rhonda Brutt and her book Voyance will soon be drawing to a close. However, the giveaway will be coming up soon. I hope you all have enjoyed Rhonda's answers to your questions.

Asked by Kristen: What does she hope readers will gain from reading?

Answered by Rhonda: As a general all purpose answer, I hope that readers gain the information they are looking for when they are reading a factually based or inspirational book. I read plenty of those myself. That being said, many people, myself included, like to read for fun and/or escape. So an entertaining fictional story serves a purpose to many readers as well and I hope the young adults who read Voyance will enjoy it for its entertainment value. Let me tell you what I hope my readers will not gain from reading Voyance! I noticed that on Amazon, this book is tagged, among other things, as a book on ESP as well as on Parapsychology. Let me be perfectly clear, this is a fictional paranormal young adult romance with no basis for fact whatsoever! I had so much fun writing this book and I hope others will have fun reading it. That was my only goal. While I admittedly had to do some research on the topic of ESP; I didn’t do all that much. I would certainly hope that if someone wanted serious information on Parapsychology or ESP they’d look for a reputable source other than my book because trust me, they will be disappointed to find themselves reading a teen romance rather than a scientific explanation of either of those topics!

Asked by Me: What one of the most difficult aspects of writing a teen fiction novel?

Answered by Rhonda:
Without a doubt, writing a query letter and a synopsis! Write a 109,000 word manuscript? No problem. Try to condense it down to a letter that will get an agent or publisher's attention and many writers along with myself find they have a roadblock. I sat and stared at a blank word document for several days. Every time I tried to write something I ended up deleting it. I finally turned to the internet for help. The advice I found there was good; but ultimately you still have to write it all by yourself! I found one website that stated it plainly. It said something to the effect of "look, you wrote an entire book, how hard can it be to write a few pages?" Trust me, it's very hard! Your ability to sell your work ultimately depends on this and you only get one shot with each agent or editor. I would advise trying to write a query letter first because if for no other reason, it's shorter.

A synopsis is a whole different issue. You are basically trying to
tell your entire story, all 300 plus pages of it, in 2 or 3 pages at the most. You have to make some difficult decisions as to what you are going to include and what details are you going to omit. Typically, a synopsis should also include your ending and that is especially hard to do because you don't want to tell them how your story ends! After all, your ending is what you're building up to! It's what you want the agent or editor to discover, you don't want to just blurt it out! How fun is that? But like it or not, most of them want you to include the ending if they ask for a synopsis. I now have several different versions of my query letters as well as a few different types of synopsis. Each agent or editor has different requirements so I always kept an original and then would tailor make each one to meet that particular agency's submission guidelines.

Asked by Nancy: Is the character Emma similar to what you were like as a teen?

Answered by Rhonda:
Yep! And since I wrote the story in first person, it was super easy for me to “feel” what she was feeling. However, this worked against me at times as well. When you write in first person, you essentially become that character. As you keep writing you become very well acquainted with what your character is thinking and experiencing. Because of this you forget that your reader can’t see inside your brain. You don’t quite feel the urgency to describe an emotion because you wrongly assume that the reader “gets” it, but without written description, they often don’t. This was brought to my attention during the editing process and I had to go back and do some re-writing as a result.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Roommate Love

Before college, I could never imagine living in a dormitory. I had no fantasies of what it would like. Actually, I had no concept that life continued on past high school. Well, guess what, life continues.

I live with three lovely ladies in a dormitory that seems more like an apartment building. Three years of college has matured us in some ways. Of course, crazy shenanigans still happen.


Meet my roommates:

Alysha is a half-Lebanese beauty who has often been called Shakira (but, really. She’s that gorgeous). She believes in spontaneity, sleeping on the couch, and leaving a trail of things behind her whether clothing, homework, or baked goods. Her quick wit leaves people speechless.

Kelsey is a cookie-eating, music-loving, exercise guru. She takes life seriously, but isn’t afraid to laugh at our crazy shenanigans. Kelsey’s pursuit of excellence permeates her entire way of living life. I don’t know if procrastination is in her vocabulary.

Sabrina is a passionate, bi-lingual child of the jungle. Often distracted from her homework, she is sought by others for her genuine heart and playful spirit. A fan of storytelling, cat naps, and face-making, Sabrina never fails to entertain.

I suppose the picture below is not exactly an accurate depiction of us (you know, minus the cartoonization, etc). Kelsey's not a fan of skirts and we all rather prefer sweatpants at this stage of life. Of course, I'm sure you get the idea. 4 girls. friends. happiness.

And these are the girls that I love so dearly. I’m not sure what I would do without them in my life. They have made this school year a time of growth, challenge, and rest. The best part is that I get to live with them next year.

When people visit our room, they immediately find peace within our walls. Many people have commented upon it. Perhaps, it is in the decoration (it’s rather tasteful if I do say so myself). But truly, I think it has to do with the community of the people who reside here every day.

My room is an oasis from the world because of the people who live here with me. I am so thankful for Alysha, Kelsey, and Sabrina. They make each day full of laughter and love.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ask An Author: Rhonda Brutt

As you all know, the past couple of weeks have consisted of a continued interview with Rhonda Brutt who recently had her book, Voyance, published. As this series draws to a close, keep checking back for a giveaway of Rhonda Brutt's book Voyance. Now, onto the questions!


Asked by Alysha: At what point did it become real that you were actually publishing a work you created?

Answered by Rhonda:
I was sitting at my computer one evening when I saw an Outlook email message appear and then fade out on the bottom corner of my screen. The only thing I remember seeing were the words “Voyance Contract Offer” and that’s when it actually became real for me. Up until that point it was still only a goal. A publishing contract however is an official affirmation, and I’m not ashamed to say that it brought a few tears as I opened it up and read it.

Asked by Kristen: What were her strategies when it came to writer's block?

Answered by Rhonda:
Warning, none of you are going to like my answer! I have never, ever, experienced writers block. (knock on wood!) But then again, I have only written one book and I wasn’t writing under a deadline either. Some writers need the pressure put on them to keep writing, I’m just the opposite.

However I will share a story with you… A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of seeing a very well known author of several mystery novels give a speech. One question that was asked of her was “Where do you get all these ideas and plots for books?” She said that she goes back into old news stories and looks at cold cases that were never solved to get ideas. Then she said that one day, as she was flipping through the classified ads of the newspaper, she was shocked at how many ads there were that read “Wedding Dress, size whatever, Never Worn.” She got to wondering why all of these wedding dresses were never worn. Figuring she might get some material for a book she began to go through the ads and call them. To all of you ladies that are reading this…if you ever have to sell a wedding dress that you never got the opportunity to wear, and an anonymous caller wants to know why, DO NOT spill your guts out to them about the whole horrible story because you might just see a fictional version of it on a book shelf someday! Remember, less is more, just say “it didn’t work out” and leave it at that!!! This author got way more info than she ever dreamed people would tell her over the phone and presto, she also got a bestselling novel out of it. The review for this book was even featured in People magazine!

If writers block occurs then look for ideas in ordinary places. Get out and talk to people. Who would have thought that a bestseller would come out of a few weeks of phone calls to distraught brides who for many various reasons, never made it to the altar!

Asked by Nancy: Are any of the scenarios in the book things you experienced?

Answered by Rhonda:
Absolutely! Although I don’t mention any of the locations in my book by their actual names since it is a fictional story, I still knew the exact places I was writing about. The parks, beaches, inlets, boats and hotels, resorts, etc. are in fact real places that actually exist. It would be a “spoiler” for those who have not read my story to go into any detail about it here but I will list a few of the chapters that I wrote about from personal experience. Here are a few: The Whale, Pulling Me Under, Cinderella Escapes, Turtles Can Race, A Deaf Date, and the entire camping trip, down to the very last detail (minus the ESP element and the cell phones). I thought my parents were going to ground me for the rest of my life for that one, thankfully they didn’t! There are also other parts or sections that have an element of personal experience mixed in with more “story line” to make the plot a little more solid.

I hope you all have a lovely Tuesday. It's sunny here! Even if I'm kept doing homework most of the day, I'll be happy because it's sunny.

For Freedom

“We were like a fire triangle, he was the oxygen, I was the flame, and together we made the fuel. All mixed together we were a fire. Somehow we needed each other to keep going. It ended like someone pouring water on our fire. It went out all of a sudden and without warning. As fast as it started, it was out”
(The Freedom Writers’ Diary, p 131).


This book has gone to vulnerable depths that I would never have expected to find in the lives of high schoolers. I feel as though high schoolers spend the entirety of their time in school learning how to wear a mask with their fellow peers and family. We learn that it’s safer. We learn that no one truly wants to hear about our problems and the circling thoughts in our minds. Sometimes it feels as though our minds are going to consume our ability to live. As I read The Freedom Writers’ Diary, I was inspired by their level of vulnerability and feeling.

Recently, the song Love the Way You Lie with Rihanna and Eminem has become hugely popular for its emotionally charged lines. Basically, it speaks of an abusive love relationship with lines such as, “I laid hands on her/I'll never stoop so low again/I guess I don't know my own strength.” It’s a relationship that neither side can escape from because they are fiercely attracted to each other but continually jealous of the other. It’s an explosive situation. Especially with lines proclaiming, “Just gonna stand there/And watch me burn/But that's alright/Because I like/The way it hurts.” It’s a song that romanticizes abuse. The music video makes abuse seem beautiful and desired even though destructive. It’s horrifying.

While I read Diary 63 on page 131 in The Freedom Writers’ Diary, the record of the abuse in this entry carried an odd similarity with the song Love the Way You Lie. Both are emotionally charged. Both focus on abuse. Both show the horror and strange magnetism that these relationships contain. Of course, the diary entry exposes abuse for what it is. It shows the pain, the difficulty, and the side effects. The diary entry is raw. Meanwhile, the music video of Love the Way You Lie shows two beautiful people both having explosive personalities equally abusing each other. The music video romanticizes abuse by not showing the bruises and the emotional difficulties of abuse. However, it is good to know that music artists aren’t afraid to write such controversial music.

Personally, I find abuse horrific. And yet, it has an ability to immobilize those caught in abuse and those outside of abuse. I have never been physically abused. As those who are caught in abuse have no idea how to free themselves, I have no idea how to be useful. Even if I know someone who is in the midst of an abusive situation, I might not even know of it. Naturally, I would want to aid them in their emotional and physical escape from such a relationship. However, I have no idea how to incite escape. Abuse is real.

movie trailer for Freedom Writers

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tree Houses

As a child, I dreamed of having a treehouse in my backyard. For a kid, I had it pretty good with a lovely climbing tree next to a swing set. Personally, I think my back yard was a child's paradise. However, I would have loved to have a legitimate tree house. It would have fueled so many imaginative games.


Happily, my love of tree houses doesn't have to die out as I grow up. Tree houses grow with me.


I wonder what it would take to get to stay there for just a day. Of course, if one is feeling adventurous and has a passport handy, jet off to South China for a stay at this idyllic play place.

You know, even though I'm afraid of heights, I'm pretty sure that if this tree house happened to go on sale and I happened to have an extra couple hundred grand in my back pocket, I would grab my handy dandy How To guide and buy this baby right up.


And if you're not feeling ambitious enough to take up residence in a tree house, why not spend a meal in one? Okay, well, this treehouse has only been considered in concept. However, I think it's a neat idea.


If you are still as enthralled by tree houses as I am, I suggest you go check out these 10 Amazing Tree Houses.

Uh, oh. I just discovered my newest interest. It looks absolutely divine. Although not quite a tree house, it has to do with trees and houses. It's referred to as a Hanging Human Birdhouse.

When you were a kid, did you love tree houses? If you could live in a tree house now, would you? What do you think of the Hanging Human Birdhouse?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ask An Author: Rhonda Brutt


A couple of weeks ago, my Aunt Rhonda became a published author. She wrote a book entitled Voyance. Since then, I've been having her answer your questions about the writing process.

(On a random side note before some questions get answered, I'd like to give you all a heads up that I shall be doing a giveaway. This will be my first giveaway. Of course, I am currently hampered by a looming finals week. I just wanted to let you all know what's stirring in my brain.)
Asked by Greg: What makes a good book?

Answered by Rhonda: This is a highly opinionated question! A professor in literature might answer that it needs to be written on the highest literary scale possible. You know, big words, eloquently flowing sentences, that kind of stuff. And to a certain extent, and it certain scenarios, I would agree. But when I read for pleasure, it’s just for that, pleasure. I don’t want to be looking up the meaning of big remote words that only kids who compete in spelling bees know. (and yes, I used to like to compete in the spelling bees!) My life is complicated enough without cluttering it up more with a book that I’m struggling to understand. I hear this same thing from many adults.

Reading for many people is an escape from the norm, it’s letting yourself get caught up in a story that is out of what is ordinary for you. To put it more simply, reading can be, among other things, a form of entertainment. When reading a book at your leisure becomes a grammar lesson, it can lose its appeal real fast. If you are a student studying English, you might disagree. It may be hard to envision reading as entertainment in our visual media world of movies, TV, computers, etc. But when you begin to think of reading in this light, it’s kind of fun actually. I also think a great story makes a good book and there is plenty of proof on the market today for that! Some of the best selling series that are currently out there aren’t necessarily that well written, but the story is so entertaining that it pulls you in regardless. If a reader gets engaged in your story, so much so that they can’t put the book down, or they are lying awake at night wondering what happens next, you’ve done your job, and you’ve done it well, regardless if you wrote it at only a 9th grade level.

Asked by Nancy: Since you wrote about ESP, do you have it or know someone that does?

Answered by Rhonda: I think most people have some ESP or psychological intuition wired into them. We have probably all experienced at least one of those “Twilight Zone or just plain freaky” moments where something happens that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. For instance I have two sisters who live very far away from me. Yet I feel very “in tune” at times with what’s going on in their lives and I’ve heard this from many other people as well. Perhaps this is because the physiological bond between siblings is very strong as they are closest blood relatives an individual has. Of course it could be because being raised together, you just shared so many similar experiences. Who knows? If you are ever sitting around with a group of friends and you find that your conversation is stale or lacking, just bring up the topic of ESP. You’ll get to hear some very unusual stories, I guarantee it because I have a few of my own I could tell, and no, they are not included in my book!

Asked by Kristen: What are your favorite books/authors?

Answered by Rhonda: I really don’t have any particularly favorite books as I enjoy all typed of genres, with the exception of true crime. Crime is not something I enjoy reading about, particularly since I can turn on the nightly news and see all the disturbing crime and violence I want. I have probably read well over 200 young adult novels in the past few years. I guess if I had to pick a favorite YA author, I would have to say it is Phillip Pullman. Mr. Pullman wrote the trilogy titled His Dark Materials, which included the books The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass and all of these received fabulous ratings from all of the big reviewers. Yes, he is a renowned atheist, but it didn’t distract from the quality of his writing and I didn’t find these books to be offensive in any way, of course that is my personal opinion. I really also enjoy reading anything by Phillip Yancey, a Christian author, and I believe that I own all of his books, with the exception of his newest book which I really do need to put on my Kindle. Phillip Yancey’s work never disappoints me. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve enjoyed all of the books in the adult vampire series that Kerrelyn Sparks writes, so I guess variety really is the spice of life!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bathroom Publicity: The Dominican Republic Edition

As a little girl, I wanted to be dropped off in the middle of some country and left there to learn the language. In those wild dreams, I was always the heroine of some adventurous novel where I magically learned the language and somehow saved the day. I think my daydreams about the Dominican Republic subtly followed those same absurd dreams. Therefore, unprepared for the reality that I didn’t speak Spanish fluently, I woke one morning expecting fluency. That morning began very rudely indeed.

Rolling out of my bed proved difficult as my body seemed to have had dreams of becoming a butterfly overnight since my sheets tightly cocooned me under mint green mosquito net. In the darkened room, I fumbled around for my flip flops. Sleepily, I wandered to the pink bathroom to relieve my bowels. Trying to ignore the overabundance of bugs that hummed near my head and hung in webs above my head, I pooped.

Now, normally, I would shudder at the thought of being so frank with you, my readers, but in the D.R., one becomes intimately acquainted with the bowel movements of all their companions that speak the same language, that is. Lack of pooping or diarrhea can both be very bad and up to this morning I had not pooped. Therefore, pooping was a great relief to me.

After carefully depositing my soiled toilet paper in the waste basket beside the toilet, I yanked up my pants and turned to flush the toilet. The relief of pooping greatly satisfied me and I wanted to proclaim to the world that I temporarily no longer feared constipation. This strange joy abruptly halted when the toilet refused to swallow my lovingly bestowed gift. I peered into the toilet. In my head, I whispered, “Please, please…go down…” as I again tried to flush the toilet. Hoping against hope, I waited. Nothing happened. “Crap.” I whispered and then I chuckled to myself for indeed it was just that – crap.

As I washed my hands, I prepared to face my Dominican mother. In my head, I ran over what I would say to her in Spanish. I walked out of the bathroom with purpose yet with embarrassment following close behind. My mami bustled around the kitchen. I approached her and with great eloquence said, “uh…..” She looked up at me with a sweet patience mixed with a tad bit of confusion.

Suddenly, I realized that I had absolutely no idea how to say, “I plugged the toilet” in Spanish. I did not even know the world for toilet. I was in deep doo-doo, more so than I had originally thought. Through a smattering of hand motions and the word ‘baño’ repeated over and over, my Dominican mother soon became aware of the situation that I had caused. Apparently, the toilet decided without my consent that I would have the joy of sharing my pooping success with my Dominican family.

I’d like to report that I never plugged the toilet again after that first morning. Sadly, this is not the case. After the third time of telling my mami in Spanish, “La silla de el baño no me gusta. (The chair of the bathroom I don’t like)” I finally demanded to learn how to unplug the dumb toilet myself. The chair of the bathroom had it in for me.To the hoots of laughter coming from my roommate, mami informed us that the toilet often gets plugged and it’s not just me.

It seems that one does not become fluent in Spanish just from sleeping in a Dominican bed. I’m certain that I heard my bubble burst somewhere during that entire event. Welcome to reality.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hobby: Letter Writing

Someone once asked me what I would do if I could only do one thing for the rest of my life as a job. After careful thought (because I'm one of those people), I responded that I would write letters.

Snail mail with its almost obsolete stamp and its paper and ink enthralls me. Letters tell stories. I suppose they are only half of a dialogue. However, there are so many opportunities for sharing stories, antidotes, thoughts, and just words.


The wonderment of such notes sent through mail couriers and all kinds of weather is that notes require letters of the alphabetic variety.


But notes aren't just contained to words.

Letters can bring stories alive. Letters draw people together across distances. It's a tangible presence of another person's time and effort. Letters are a thing of beauty like a fairy tale (okay, so i do believe letters are like fairy tales; however, I just wanted the opportunity to share this picture.)


If letters are saved and put together, they are like loose leaf journals. A good journal is like a best friend and best friends should always receive letters.


But more than anything, letters make me feel like someone took the time to think of me. They took precious time out of their days to acquaint me with the going-ons in their lives.


Do you write snail mail letters? What are some of your favorite hobbies?